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Harvest Lore


Corn Dollies

Harvest MoonHarvest Home


  • Harvest Home, also called the Ingathering, the Inning, or the Kern, is an old harvest celebration still held in some parts of the rural British Isles.
  • The last sheaf, or last load of the crop is designated the Harvest Queen, decked with ribbons and flowers or green boughs, and accompanied from the field by singing and shouting men, women and children.
  • The Harvest Queen is carried from the field on a wagon or on a pole. As the load enters the yard, it is pelted with apples and the Queen drenched with water. The day ends with a feast, the crowning of the head reaper, merrymaking, dance, and song.

    The practice of decorating and celebrating the last of the harvest is a widespread tradition. Generally known as corn dollies, these decorated remnants are believed to hold the spirit of the grain safe over the cold winter months.
  • Such communal celebrations of the harvest are observed all over the world, part of a series of festivities from the first fruits to the final harvest and storage.
  • Harvest celebrations traditionally include invocations, secular and religious dances, the offering of first fruits, and, in some cases, purging or purifying baths. They always conclude with a feast. The Celts and the Creek Indians kindled new fires in their homes from a central fire around which they dance.
  • Harvest Dances are usually open to all and take many forms. The most common are symbolic skirmishes and the serpentine, a human chain formed by linking hands and following a leader in snakelike formation.
  • Geographic location and climate determines what harvest is celebrated. Mediterranean people rejoice over the vintage; Lithuanians laud the maturing of the rye.
  • Native Americans from the Andes to the Iroquois Nation center their celebrations around Maize, celebrating the harvest with corn dances. Some tribes also celebrate a green corn dance when the first edible ears are pulled.
  • The Iroquois, in fact, schedule a series of celebrations from June to November, celebrating harvests of strawberries, raspberries, beans, green corn, and ripe corn, culminating with a thanksgiving celebration for all. This sequence was repeated by many Eastern tribes.
  • Many pagan harvest festivals have evolved into church holidays such as Corpus Christi, St. John's Day, St. Matthew's Day, and the feast for the dead (Halloween). Our Thanksgiving is a relic of the old harvest celebrations.

The Harvest Home Song

  • Harvest Home! Harvest Home!
  • We've plowed, we've sowed,
  • We've reaped, we've mowed,
  • And brought safe home
  • every load.

Corn Dollies

  • The last sheaf of the harvest, dressed in a woman's dress or woven into an intricate shape and decked with ribbons, is regarded as the embodiment of the spirit of the crop, the spirit of the growing grain itself. The safe-keeping of this corn dolly over the winter insures fertility for the following harvest, provided that some portion of it is given to cattle and horses to eat, and some portion of it strewn in the field or mixed with the seeds for the next crop.
  • This practice of saving the spirit of the harvest is extensive throughout Europe.
  • In Northumberland, the corn dolly is attached to a long pole and carried home to be set up in the barn. In some communities it goes home on the lastload. Sometimes it is fairly small. In parts of Germany, the heavier it is, the better.
  • On the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, the corn dolly's apron is filled with bread, cheese and a sickle. In other parts of Scotland, the reapers hold races. The man who finishes reaping first designates his last sheaf the corn maiden; the one who finishes last makes his last sheaf into a hag.
  • In some localities, the corn dolly is made by the first farmer who finishes his harvest and then passed from farm to farm as each farmer finishes his harvest, ending up with the farmer who finishes last. In this case, no one wants the dolly as it is a sign of procrastination.
  • In Wales, others try to snatch the dolly from the reaper who carries it from the field. If he gets home safe, he gets to keep it on his farm for the rest of the year.
  • French, Slavonic, and some Germanic regions use the last sheaf to create a Kornwolf, believed to hold a wolf-like spirit that resides in the last sheaf and provides the same life force for the next season. This is a fiercer version of the corn dolly and is sometimes used to scare children.
  • Today, corn dollies are seen as emblems of abundance.

Why corn?

  • Historically the word corn was applied to the the small hard grain or fruit of a plant. It was used generically to refer to the leading crop of the district. In England, corn was wheat; in Scotland, oats; in the U.S., maize.

How to make a Corn Dolly

  • The best part of the stem is the top length from the ear (the seed head) down to where the last leaf leaves the stem. Leaving the ear intact, strip off the dead leaves and sort the stems according to size: thick, medium, and fine.
  • Dry straw must be soaked flat in cold water for about 15 minutes and then stood upright to drain before plaiting.
  • The Five-Straw Plait is the easiest to work with for a beginner:
  • 1. Tie 5 straws together close to the ears.
  • 2-5. Each time the straw being folded passes over two corners, it is then left and the one at the last corner is picked up and used in its place until the round is completed.
  • The attractive spiral pattern grows as round succeeds round.
  • 6. When completed, the ends are tied to the starting point below the ears, making a decorative circle.
  • To feed in new straws, cut the old straw off after it has passed the second straw. The thin end of the new straw is inserted in the hole, making sure of a firm fit which is hidden under the fold of the straw of the next round.
  • Simple corn dollies can also be made with the standard three-straw plait.
  • More complex corn dollies involve multiple straws, intricate braids, and sometimes the creation of a straw core shape around which the outer straw is plaited.
  • A Corn Dolly by any other name
  • • England: Harvest Queen
  • • Kern Baby
  • • Corn Doll
  • • Scotland: Hag
  • • Old Wife
  • • Old woman (Cailleac)
  • • Wales: Hag (Wrach)
  • • Brittany: Mother Sheaf.
  • • Germany: Kornmutter (Corn Mother)
  • • Harvest Mother
  • • Old Woman.
  • • Prussia: Grandmother
  • • Denmark : Rye Woman
  • • Barley Woman
  • • Poland: Baba (grandmother)

Corn Dollies are made from plaited or braided straw. Hollow wheat straw is the easiest to work with.




The horn of abundance of classic mythology, always filled with fruit and self-replenishing according to the wishes of its possessor. The horn is reputed to be broken from the goat Amalthes which nourished the infant Zeus or torn from Achelous by Hercules.

Waxing eloquent

  • Many swarms of wild bees
  • descended on our fields:
  • Stately stood the wheatstalk
  • with head bent high:
  • Big of heart we laboured
  • at storing mighty yields,
  • Wool and corn, and clusters
  • to make men cry!
  • -George Meredith

Harvest Moon


  • The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox of the sun is known as the Harvest Moon. The moon rises at about the same time every night, and shines so brightly that farmers in northern latitudes are able to work in the fields until late at night taking in the fall harvest.
  • The moon following the Harvest Moon is the Hunter's Moon, much as the final storage of grain is followed by the first deer hunt.

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